Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Chuck Smiths by Mark Driscoll

This is an interesting post taken from Mark Driscoll's Resurgent website.Here he discusses two generations of 'evangelicals', the oldstyle represented by Chuck Snr and the new style ( emerging type) by his son Chuck Jnr.I find myself in disagreement with some of the views Chuck Snr who was dogmatic on some disputable doctrines ( e.g.the Rapture )as well as Chuck Jnr who has certainly less confidence than his Dad on the authority of Scripture. Likewise I am also in agreement with each of them on certain points.They might well be described as a double jeopardy.

You may not agree with all Driscoll's conclusions but it should provide some insight into the way the Church in America appears to be heading.We should also be aware that when America sneezes the UK and Europe often catches the cold.AK

Chuck Smith Sr. (79) is the founder and leader of the Calvary Chapel movement, which is one of the most amazing church planting and evangelism works of God in the history of America. His ministry includes his 15,000-person church, the 1,000 Calvary Churches that look to him for leadership, as well as his many books and radio and television ministries. His son and namesake, Chuck Smith Jr. (55), pastors a church not far from his father's church. Over the years there has been a growing theological rift between the two; it recently spilled over onto page one of the LA Times newspaper. Here's the link to the full story.

Some of the more pertinent quotes are listed below:

Chuck Smith Jr. on his growing lack of certainty on some biblical issues: "Even when I speak, some of what I say is opinion and confusion and error,' says Smith Jr., 55, who wears shorts and flip-flops as he welcomes a visitor to his church. 'I'm more in a place of learning than I am in a place of certainty.'"

Chuck Smith Jr. speaking of his father: "'He wasn't present emotionally, even if he was present physically. To hear him speak, you just get the impression this is such a warm and intimate person, but the closer you got to him, the more you'd realize he really didn't have those intimacy skills.'"

Chuck Smith Jr. on hell: "For years, Smith Jr. said, he had preached about hell uncomfortably, half-apologetically, because he couldn't understand why a loving God would consign his children to eternal flames. It felt like blackmail for a pastor to threaten people with hell-scapes from the Middle Ages to induce piety. Now, he came to believe that the biblical images used to depict hell's torments such as the 'lake of fire' and the 'worm that does not die' were intended to evoke a feeling rather than a literal place."

Chuck Smith Jr. on the Rapture: "He also grew disillusioned with the Rapture, the notion that believers in Jesus will be whisked to God's side during Armageddon. His father had predicted the end of the world would arrive in the 1980s, based on his reading of the Book of Revelation. He has continued, year after year, to announce its imminence with absolute confidence."

Chuck Smith Jr. on homosexuality: "'I met homosexuals who were trying to live celibate lives or be heterosexual, and I heard all about their struggles, and I never wanted to exacerbate that. My heart went out to them. Listening convinced me that homosexual orientation is not something people chose.'"

A comment on masculinity: "There was also, theology aside, the question of the son's temperament. He hardly fit the mold of the Christian soldier championed by his father in his book 'Harvest,' in which he spoke of 'the ideal of a biblical man who is strong and not vacillating or weak' and denounced 'the new touchy/feely men.' Smith Jr. weeps before his congregation, making no secret of his ongoing battle with depression that took him to the brink of suicide after his 1993 divorce. At the time, he stood before his congregation explaining that his wife of 18 years, the mother of his five children, was leaving him despite his effort to save the marriage."

A comment on pagan syncretism with Christianity: "Fundamentalists have also been troubled in recent years by gestures they see as a throwback to paganism, such as Smith Jr. giving the sign of the cross at services and hanging his sanctuary with paintings of Jesus in the iconic Byzantine style. In 2005, to make matters worse, he took several extended retreats to a Catholic monastery in Big Sur."
For those wanting to hear a reading of Chuck Smith Jr.'s written response it can be found on video at his church's website.

There are really two kinds of issues at work here.

First, there are the personal issues between a father and son. I cringed as I read the article because it pained me to see the hurt between a father and son on the front page of the LA Times. We should all be praying that whatever hurt or bitterness might exist between the two Christian men would be taken care of by the atoning death of Jesus so that they might enjoy loving reconciliation in this life.

Second, there are the theological issues, which are incredibly important and really a snapshot of the growing chasm between older evangelicals and the new brand of Emergent-type Christians. I have never met Chuck Smith Sr. though I have great respect for all that God has accomplished through him. I have only met Chuck Smith Jr. on one occasion when we were both teaching at a pastors' conference in California many years ago. He seemed like a very loving and gracious man who was also influenced by writers like Brian McLaren, which leaked through his teaching and is now more clearly identified in the LA Times article. The article noted eight theological issues. I will outline them below, not for the sake of picking on the Smiths, but to use their disagreement as an example of a much broader rift in American Christianity that has only begun:

Creationism. Chuck Smith Sr. holds the conservative position of a young earth while Chuck Smith Jr. holds the apparent position of an old earth. This is an issue where there should be some room for disagreement among even biblical literalists. Why? Because though the Bible is clear that God created the heavens and the earth, it does not tell us the age of the earth. The age of the earth can only be inferred and is therefore not a point on which Christians should divide, though we can certainly debate and disagree about the issue as it relates to the Bible.

Kingdom. The problem with the older generation of strong dispensationally minded evangelicals was that they had an under-realized eschatology. By this, I mean that they saw the kingdom of God as an almost entirely future event. The younger generation of evangelicals are more prone to embrace an over-realized eschatology whereby the kingdom of God is essentially here already, so talking about heaven, hell, and the eternal state is not important. On this point, Smith Jr. echoes a drum regularly beat by McLaren and others affiliated with the Emergent group. The problem is that the kingdom of God is not yet here, but it does break in through the church, the preaching of the gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, a balanced eschatology that holds the "already/not yet" tension of Paul is the only hope for a biblical position on this issue.

Hell. Again echoing McLaren and the Emergent folks, Smith Jr. says in his response video that he does not believe hell should be used for evangelism and such. While this sentiment may sound kind, it is not. Jesus spoke of hell more than anyone in the Bible and any effort to downplay eternal conscious torment of the unrepentant in hell is the first step in promoting false doctrine. Additionally, for those who are dying, the consideration of an eternity in hell is not only an effective means by which to compel them to repent of sin and trust in Jesus, but also a pastorally kind one because if they die apart from Jesus they will spend eternity in a fiery hell. It is more kind to offend them today and spare them that fate than to spare them today and send them to that fate.

Rapture. The rapture, like the age of the earth, is an issue that Christians should discuss and debate, but not divide over. Years ago when I first read Smith Sr.'s book Calvary Chapel Distinctives, I was surprised to see that in addition to the Holy Spirit, Bible, grace, Jesus, and love, which all make sense, the premillenial pretribulational rapture of the church was an essential doctrine. Curiously, the rapture is a doctrine that has existed for less than two hundred years in the church's history. The word itself started at a peculiar and possibly cultic charismatic prayer meeting where a women prophesied that the church would be raptured. From that simple beginning, the doctrine has now become the leading eschatological position in American evangelicalism. For more on this issue, the book The Incredible Cover Up: Exploring the Origins of Rapture Theories by Dave MacPherson is a fascinating historical read. Since the doctrine was not even heard of by men such as Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and Wesley, we should not make this doctrine the litmus test of biblical faithfulness, otherwise we are saying there was no faithful eschatology for the first 1,800 years of the church.

Masculinity. There is a trend underfoot to have an effeminate Jesus who never said harsh things, never hurt feelings, and would never have the stones to torment someone in hell. This is the result of an increasingly effeminate culture with men who are not masculine like they should be. There must be a return to a delight in all that it means to be made male and female.

Homosexuality. While Smith Jr. never says homosexuality is permissible, he also seemingly lacks the courage to simply declare that all sex and sexual lust outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful. This issue is a growing rift in the church between an older generation of evangelicals and younger Emergent types who either lack the courage to speak truthfully or do not see homosexuality as a clear sin and therefore dance around the issue as cautiously as possible. On the issue of whether or not homosexuality is a sin, there can be no debate by those who believe the Scriptures. Regarding the best ways to love, evangelize, and minister to people trapped in sexual sin, however, there can and should be much debate so that Christians are most effective in sharing the love of Jesus with all people.

Literalism. The article also raised the issue of biblical literalism. This issue is an old one that dates back to Eden when the Serpent asked, "Did God really say . . . ?" What is curious is that everyone is a biblical literalist, except of course when it is inconvenient. For example, I recently chatted with a homosexual who said that the parts of the Bible telling him to not have sex with men were not to be taken literally. Yet, he wanted me to be very loving in my disagreement with him because he had also chosen to take the parts of the Bible demanding love quite literally. There are, of course, figures of speech in the Bible and we are often clued in to them by the words "like" or "as," which denote that a literal truth is being communicated in a figurative way. Therefore, on the issue of literalism we must take the Bible literally and I mean that literally, of course.

Certainty. Much of Smith Jr.'s confusion and likely Smith Sr.'s frustration stem from their epistemology. In Sr.'s world there is certainty provided by objectivity according to the modern paradigm of knowledge. In Jr.'s world there is uncertainty provided by subjectivity according to the postmodern paradigm of knowledge. This issue is essentially the fault line of the other debates I have mentioned. The result is that objectivists (Smith Sr.) see subjectivists (Smith Jr.) as compromised, while the subjectivists see the objectivists as legalistic, dogmatic, and arrogant.
In conclusion, Christianity is supposed to be a two-handed religion. In the closed hand of unchanging certainty are to be such things as a high view of the Bible and literalism, commitment to the Trinity, belief in original sin, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus alone, creation by God, literal hermeneutic, heaven and hell, clear gender roles, and loving humility. In the open hand of less certainty are to be issues that are of a secondary nature that we can disagree and debate over without dividing. They would include such things as age of the earth, perspectives on predestination and election, view of the rapture, worship styles, church government forms, and mode of baptism. These secondary matters are not unimportant, but simply less important than the primary matters that belong in the closed hand of certainty.

The Smith's rift is a very painful example of a national trend that shows no sign of slowing. This trend has the potential for one group to push every doctrine into a closed hand of certainty (the error of classic fundamentalism) and for the other group to push every doctrine into an open hand of uncertainty (classic liberalism)


Anonymous said...

You mentioned Dave MacPherson in your outstanding blog. I recently bought, from Armageddon Books, his bestselling book "The Rapture Plot" - 300 shocking pages of the "mother of all revisionisms" that outdoes even his earlier book "The Incredible Cover-up." For those whose heads I may be talking over, his web pieces including "Pretrib Rapture Desperados," "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," and "Famous Rapture Watchers" are good introductions to his unique historical research. God bless. John Dennis

Andrew Kenny said...

Thanks for your comments John and also the Websites your mentioned.Feel free to comment again.